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A Guide to a Successful Motivation Letter for Foreign Exchange Program

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If you know that writing a motivation letter is what stopping you every time you wanted to apply for a foreign exchange program, then you should probably line up… because you are definitely not alone.

Writing a motivation letter is often a step that is being put aside in the process of applying for a foreign exchange program. People are usually too caught up in the files they have to prepare or their CV. Do not get the wrong idea, your CV and any files that are mandatory to submit are important things, they must not be ignored. However, writing a motivation letter is equally important because of its role in an application process.

In fact, writing a motivation letter is not an easy craft that one could simply master overnight.

What is a motivation letter?

Before we breakdown the specifics on how to properly write a motivation letter, let us first discuss what a motivation letter really is. Motivation letter is often mistaken for cover letter. Technically they are not that different, both motivation letter and cover letter are statements of purpose. The writer will tell their professional competence and personal motivation. However, cover letter is normally written if you are applying for a job.

Similar to cover letter, a motivation letter could be written when applying for a job too—the difference being it is most likely for a non-profit work. Its main objective, however, is for applying to scholarships, graduate schools, and our focus, motivation letter for exchange program.

Why is it important? It is quite simple, really.

The institution that we are applying to needs to know who we are, what our interests are, and how we could benefit them.

In a similar manner, we would not accept someone that we don’t know—let alone trust.

Foreign exchange program is supposed to be a mutually beneficial affair, hence, we should state how is selecting us to be a part of the program would benefit both parties.

Now that we are already on the same page about what a motivation letter is and why is it important, let us move on to how do we write a—not only appropriate, but also a winning—motivation letter for exchange program.


Yes, we hear you.

Perhaps this is what makes writing a motivation letter a dreadful experience to begin with, but structure is very important and cannot be taken lightly. The structure of your writing shows your professionalism, and it also implies whether or not you are a well-educated student.

Structure also emphasizes your soft skills. We are familiar with how important soft skills are in modern day education. According to Bernd Schulz in his published article in Journal of Language and Communication, soft skills include social intelligence and communication skills that are demanded not only in professional but also in education sector.

If your structure is all over the place, then simply do not expect a reply.

A motivation letter for exchange program should consist of:

·      Your name and personal information

·      The name of the addressee (if you are familiar with it. If not, simply use an appropriate pronoun)

·      The content, which should be divided in three parts:

o   Introduction, which includes your purpose of writing. Don’t forget to make this part interesting by using an attention grabber or a hook.

o   Body, which includes your professional competences, such as your experiences, and your personal motivation.

o   Conclusion, which summarizes your intention of writing and closes your pitch.

·      Regards and signature

Best believe that nobody in the selection panel dislikes an articulate candidate, so, there aren’t any harm of carefully managing the structure of your letter.

Make your motivation letter brief

Brevity is key.

It is called a motivation letter—not a motivation essay.

The best way to write a motivation letter for exchange program is to stick to the important parts. We already agreed that a motivation letter is used as an acceptance tool, to help both parties get closer to their goals, which are to choose a candidate, and to get chosen as a candidate. Do everyone a favor by making it concise.

Of course, sometimes your experiences and achievements may not be able to be summarized into half a page. It is encouraged to list your accomplishments. It is a must, even. However, spare the details that will overwhelm the readers. Avoid unnecessary intricate sentences that will confuse those assessing you.

A tip to make writing it easier, make an outline of what you are going to write down on your motivation letter. Make a list—in a piece of paper or your preferred writing instrument—of all the key accomplishments you have achieved, and which are the ones that will make the most significant impact.

The panel in charge of selection is reading so many applications in one day. The least you could do is to get right to the point.

Remember, brevity is key.

Focus on your strongest qualities

If you are writing a motivation letter for exchange program, it is clear that your aim is at least to be selected among the shortlist of future candidates for the program. Whether it is an interview or straight in the exchange program, you have to pass the file selection process.

Not to worry, for this is achievable by highlighting your strong suit.

You are writing this motivation letter to convince the selection panel that this exchange program is well-suited for you. With that being said, simply mention your best qualities!

Spare your weaknesses for the interview.

Believe when we say that the panel already knows that you have weaknesses. The point of this motivation letter is for them to know why you should be the candidate to be chosen, not for you to self-reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. It is not a reflection letter, after all.

Do not restrict yourself in only addressing your best qualities in the body of the letter. You can put it somewhere in the beginning—as long as it does not sound forced and still plausible—to act as the hook or attention grabber for the readers.

But don’t forget to balance things out; nobody would want an arrogant applicant.     

Be creative in your delivery

But, isn’t everyone going to be listing his or her strongest qualities?

The answer to that question is yes, of course. Remember that you are writing a motivation letter for exchange program. It can be predicted that adjectives such as “hardworking” or “passionate” are going to appear one too many times in the one too many applications the panel are going to read.

But, I am hardworking and passionate. How do I say these things while still being interesting?

This is where wording becomes extra important. Try mentioning those qualities in other words that do not make you have to constantly repeat how—for example—hardworking or passionate you are.

For example, you can start by mentioning all your experiences and achievements. You then could highlight which activities do you enjoy the most. You could also give examples of your role in your school or university’s organizations, basically what you bring to the table. These are ways that you could show how hardworking and passionate you are as an individual, without having to repeat the adjectives over and over again.

Remember to be as eloquent as possible in your writing. If your writing is smooth and interesting, the selection panelists are more likely to be persuaded by you than by anyone else.

Add some personal touch

As previously mentioned, the panelists responsible for the applicants are going to read so many applications that they might not look into your motivation letter as careful as you would hope.

This isn’t anything new. Really, who could blame them?

However there is a way for you to avoid being overlooked, which is for your letter to stand out compared to the others.

How, you asked?

Every person has different personalities. Every personality has uniqueness. Simply add your personality into your letter. Really deliver why do you think that you deserve a spot in the exchange program.

Everyone is indeed unique. You only need to make sure that your uniqueness is the kind that they are looking for.

Another important point to be said is that you could only use your motivation letter in one occasion. Your motivation letter should be personalized to cater to the program’s needs. Hence, you should not be using the same motivation letter to apply to multiple exchange programs at the same time.

State your motivation

This is rather self-explanatory.

You are obliged to write a motivation letter, with that being said, you need to clearly state your motivation on applying.

The selection panel needs to know how come you are the one candidate that they are looking for to fill the empty spot in the exchange program. Not to sound repetitive, but you have to personalized your letter. Study the requirements of the program and try to appeal from that angle. Explain to the panel in your letter how your personal objectives met their requirements.

Note that your motivation letter must consist of your own motivation. Although writer’s block is very common—especially when writing about yourself without sounding cocky—do not look at examples!

Other people’s reasons on why they write a motivation letter must be different from yours. Remember that.

Keep things professional

Other than brevity, consistency is key as well.

You have already had your structure managed very well. It is formal and appropriate. Keep the formality and appropriateness throughout your letter. Make sure that your words are consistent. Avoid small mistakes like the inconsistency of using a pronoun. Although simple, if you miss only by a little bit, it proves that you do not have eyes for detail, plus, it also proves that you did not check your letter thoroughly.

Make sure that your grammar is spotless too.

Otherwise it would be embarrassing.

Lastly, although it was mentioned earlier that the introduction of a motivation letter should include an attention grabber or a hook, you should never force humor. Keep in mind that you could still be interesting without having to impose something that not everybody could agree on as appropriate.


Studies have shown that we cannot proofread our own writing. Unlike computers, our brains convey meaning faster than they convey mistakes. That way, we could sometimes miss a typo or two because our eyes do not automatically scan spelling errors.

When we are re-reading our own writing, our brains and eyes are not exactly complementing each other. On the process of writing, our brains already know what we were trying to deliver, so our eyes would read it as how we said it in our head, not how we typed it down.

That is why we cannot check our own mistakes, because we will see what is already been formulated in our head.

This would be the right moment to bring in the people closest to you—could be your parents, siblings, friends, or you could even pay someone—to proofread for you!

You will need someone who has not read your writing yet, for this would be the first time they read it. This will make them focus on what is written, since they will try to understand what is laid in front of them.

So, do not hesitate to ask for help!

If they are really the ones closest to you, they would not hesitate to spare some of their time and help you.

All in all, it is very understandable that writing a motivation letter for exchange program could be something that people are overlooking. However, now after knowing how important it is and how to properly write it, there isn’t any reason that you would take it lightly!

At the end of the day, a foreign exchange program is one in a lifetime opportunity because not everyone could experience it. Since it is such a big deal, it would only make sense if we put all the time and energy that we have into making the effort needed to go and get ourselves the chance of being in the exchange program.

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